Duterte-Carpio debate: Timeline of the word war between two high-ranking lawyers

May 7, 2021 - 6:12 PM
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This composite photo shows President Rodrigo Roa Duterte talks to the people after holding a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Malacañang Golf (Malago) Clubhouse in Malacañang Park, Manila on May 5, 2021 and former Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio. (Presidential photo/Simeon Celi; Philstar.com, file)

The much-anticipated debate between President Rodrigo Duterte and retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio about the West Philippine Sea row will no longer push through.

In a statement on May 7, Carpio said that the challenge for a debate is “pointless” and a “useless exercise” to begin with, citing no factual disputes to be talked about.

“There is no factual dispute that China seized Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines during the Aquino administration. There is also no factual dispute that China seized Mischief Reef from the Philippines during the Ramos administration. Further, there is no factual or legal dispute that China seized Scarborough Shoal and Mischief Reef in violation of international law,” Carpio said.

“Hence, it is pointless to debate about Scarborough Shoal and Mischief Reef. I will not engage in a useless exercise that will only detract the public’s interest on the vital outstanding issues on the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

Carpio also cited Duterte’s insistence that China possessed the entire West Philippine Sea as among the latter’s continuing false claims.

“This false claim is conceding more than what China is claiming for China has never claimed that is in possession of the West Philippine Sea,” he said.

The veteran lawyer, however, clarified that he is prepared to debate with the chief executive or anyone he designates if the topic is about this false, repeated claim.

“I am ready to debate with the president or with anyone he may designate on the factual accuracy and adverse legal implications to the Philippines of the president’s repeated claim that ‘China is in possession of the West Philippine Sea,’” Carpio said.

The hashtags #DuterteDuwag and #DutertePalpak, along with the names of “Roque” and “Carpio” later dominated conversations on Twitter on May 7 as Filipinos poked fun at and lamented that the debate might no longer happen.

Some Filipinos, meanwhile, shared that such outcome is expected.

“Justice Carpio is within his rights to refuse debating Roque. Using the same reasoning, Roque is beneath Carpio and it would be an unfair debate. Having a hack facing a former Justice of the Supreme Court is just not right,” one user said.

“Let’s not pretend this debate was ever going to happen,” another user said.

What happened before?

In his national address that aired on Wednesday, Duterte initiated the debate against Carpio.

“Itong Carpio naman, sulat nang sulat ng mga decision para sa kanyang utak lang. Isa ring ug*k itong… Bak… Supreme Court justice pareho man tayo abugado. Gusto — eh gusto mo magdebate tayo?” he said.

The chief executive also accused the former Supreme Court justice and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario of being involved in the withdrawal of the Philippine Navy ships during the 2012 Scarborough standoff.

Duterte threatened to resign anew should Carpio prove that his accusation was false.

“Mayroon man ‘yong abugado talaga na maski sinong abugado tanungin ninyo, iyan ang nangyari. Ngayon, kung ako ‘yong nagsisinungaling, mag-resign ako bukas kaagad. Iyan ang garantiya ko sa inyo,” he said.

In a response on Thursday, Carpio accepted the challenge and urged Duterte to keep his “word of honor” on his resignation.

“On President Duterte’s challenge to debate with me on the West Philippine Sea issue: I gladly accept the challenge anytime at the president’s convenience,” he said.

Following this statement, the Philippine Bar Association offered to host the debate, citing the importance of discussing the issues surrounding the territorial row.

“As the oldest voluntary private organization of lawyers in the country, the PBA will provide a balanced arena fit for two lawyers of eminent stature and experience to dispassionately discuss the core issues relating to the dispute on the West Philippine Sea,” said PBA president Rico Domingo.

In a sudden turn of events on May 7, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced that he will face Carpio on debate on Duterte’s behalf.

The Palace spokesman said that some Cabinet members perceived that it is unfair for Duterte to have a debate with Carpio as among the reasons for discouraging the chief executive.

“Parang hindi naman tabla na ang presidente mismo ang haharap sa ordinaryong mambabatas (referring to Carpio), parang hindi po patas,”  he said.